Moving it to the Mainstream

We had an interesting conversation at supper last evening.  Today is going to be a full day of evaluation of proposals for the CSTA’s Computer Science / Information Technology Symposium to be held this summer.  Look for details here or on the CSTA website when things are finalized.

The committee met for supper and our meeting organizer had made an excellent choice of restaurants.  (although walking by the Chirping Chicken had me drooling to drop in there…)  Over supper, we were talking about the status of Computer Science in secondary schools.  In so many ways, it’s the forgotten discipline.   In fact, our meeting organizer noted that she didn’t even know that subjects like that or Computer Engineering existed when she went to high school.  As sad as that comment is, it is the reality for the majority, I suspect.

Recently, Alfred Thompson (@alfredtwo on Twitter, who was sitting at the other end of the table) posted his thoughts about Computing Education and Education Reform.  I thought that he summed his thoughts nicely at the end of the post.

We can use computer science to teach math better. We can use computer science to teach problems solving better. We can use the context of computer science to talk about and teach ethical behavior. There are computer science concepts that are intrinsic parts of social networking so we can better prepare students to live in a connected (networked) world. Rather than being absent from the education reform discussion computer science should be an integral part of the discussion.

He was making reference to the position of Social Networking in education.  Alfred talks of the value but also asks where is the respect for true Computer Science?

It is the reality that Computer Science, if it’s even offered at a school, remains an elective duking it out on student option sheets with other subject areas.  In an educational reality where testing is king, emphasis is on increasing literacy scores.  While nobody is about to deny the importance of this, we should be turning an eye towards all subject areas.  Thinking about mathematics and science is equally as important.  As Alfred notes, a good Computer Science teacher can weave the elements of computer science through all subject areas.

We talk about the importance of media literacy in today’s world.  Absolutely, this should be an important element of what composes a student’s education.  However, this literacy needs to go beyond, far beyond, watching a YouTube video and determining whether it’s real or staged.  In a world where so many students are packing their own portable technologies and have access to computer technologies at home, school, on the bus, …, isn’t it equally as important that they understand how these things work?  We teach the analysis of literary forms at all grade levels.  In how many cases, does the deep understanding extend to the concept of “Googling Something”?

In a timely fashion, my quote from The Daily Papert was the following.

“Part of learning is getting information. Somebody stands in front of the classroom and preaches, and information is somehow flowing into people’s heads, or so it is said. But that’s only one part of education. The other part, which Dewey would have emphasized, is about doing things, making things, constructing things. However, in our school systems, as in the popular image of education, the informational side is again dominating.”

Papert, S. (1998) Child Power: Keys to the New Learning of the Digital Century

This speech was delivered at the eleventh Colin Cherry Memorial Lecture on Communication on June 2, 1998, at the Imperial College in London. The introduction is by Professor Bruce Sayers, professor emeritus, Imperial College.

It is only when we start to emphasize the “constructing things” that the true power of technology and, indeed, the true power of the student mind and imagination, is unleashed.  In the area of Computer Science and the understanding of technology, there are no limits to what can be done.  Students are not held back by the lack of chemicals or dated textbooks.  The sky’s the limit and in a great classroom, there is no low hanging fruit.

Now, our students aren’t all going to develop the latest, greatest software package.  But, as I preview the session proposals that we’ll dig into later this morning, I see things like…

  • Robots and robotics
  • Small Basic programming
  • Computational Thinking
  • Java (Whack of Java)
  • Python (Whack of Python)
  • Kudo (Lots of Kudo)

  • Reaching all students with Computer Science
  • Web Design as a communication skill
  • Scratch
  • Cloud Computing
  • Programming for Mobile Devices (all kinds)
  • and so much more

These are only a summary of the sessions that I pre-evaluated before this meeting.  I’m as excited as all get out.  These are the things I want my own kids to know and understand.  Heck, these are the things that I want to know and understand.

There is a buzz, an enjoyment, and indeed a literacy that comes from understanding how to make the technology work for you instead of the other way around.  There is no better way for this to happen than to move Computer Science into the mainstream.

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